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DVD Review: ‘A Bigger Splash’

★★★☆☆

The BFI reissue of Jack Hazan’s fascinating 1974 docudrama A Bigger Splash exploring David Hockney’s life between 1971-3 – after he separated from partner Peter Schlesinger – could not be more timely as it coincides with the opening of his new show at the Royal Academy of Arts, entitled A Bigger Picture. A Bigger Splash was filmed over three years by Hazan, bringing together some of the most famous figures of the 1970s London art scene including Ossie Clark, Celia Birtwell and art dealer John Kasmin.

This intriguing piece of cinema provides little insight into who the real Hockney is – if indeed there is such a thing – but instead muses through a series of cinematic tableaux exploring his friends, lovers and colleagues through the portraits he painted. The most interesting aspect of the film is how it manages to blur the line between the products Hockney created, and Hockney himself as a product of celebrity. Starring Hockney and his friends, A Bigger Splash does not always manage to convince due to its semi-scripted approach – most notably, the dialogue is often strangely stilted. Nonetheless, this is still a very interesting film providing space to reflect upon the world and art of one of Britain’s foremost artists.

The camerawork is typical of the British documentary tradition, yet what it captures is highly unorthodox making it much more intriguing viewing than other documentaries of the same era. The complex production history of the film is perhaps its primary weakness; when he approached Hockney, Hazan had little idea of what the final product would be. Filming was highly disorganised, recording footage of the numerous individuals when and where they were available.

This resulted in the much sought after Hockney appearing much less in the film than Schlesinger and the other figures, and there is also very little of Hockney actually at work. However, to criticise these elements is to miss the point of the film, which is more preoccupied with other people’s relationship towards Hockney, rather than the man himself. Whilst A Bigger Splash remains a dramatically-flawed project, it is also undoubtedly an important resource for lovers of Hockney alongside the Royal Academy of Arts’ current exhibition.

Joe Walsh